Thinking about Theatre - The Dublin International Theatre Symposium

From an early stage, Pan Pan established itself as a company with an international interest, taking their performances to, amongst others, Poland, France, Sweden, Austria, South Korea, France, and Germany. In 1997, however, Pan Pan brought world theatre to Dublin, instead of the other way around: the first Dublin International Theatre Symposium was organised. This symposium soon gained momentum and ran for five editions up until 2003. Despite its relatively brief life, the symposium had a significant impact on the Dublin arts and culture scene. 

With the first edition, Pan Pan set out to, according to creative director and Pan Pan co-founder Gavin Quinn, provide ‘a stimulating reference point for discussion and action from which to further our theatrical interaction’. Indeed, the symposium was not intended to be another festival, but rather an opportunity for theatre companies from all over Europe to meet and share their experiences, skills and approaches. Hence, the use of the term ‘symposium’ rather than ‘festival’: instead of a series of performances, Pan Pan, in collaboration with ArtsLab, filled the program with demonstrations, talks, workshops and discussions. The participating companies hailed from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, France, Sweden and the UK, creating diverse mishmash of artists and theatre practices. 

A year later, in 1998, the second Dublin International Theatre Symposium took place at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Dublin. Pan Pan once more invited companies from all over Europe to present and share their style, approaches and viewpoints on contemporary theatre through talks, panels and workshops. Yet this time, the symposium also offered two full performances: Pan Pan’s Peepshow, which had premiered in Gdansk, Poland, and Lonely Dogs Feel So Blue by German company Malburger Theaterwerkstatt, who had also participated in the first symposium the year before. Sweden’s Tyst Theatre also came back for a second year of sharing and participating, and Pan Pan expanded their invitee list to include theatre practitioners from Belgium, Austria and Norway. 

The 3rd Dublin International Theatre Symposium, produced in 1999, boasts the longest invite list, with over twenty participating companies and practitioners. Among these invitees was Tomoe Shizune & Hakutobo, a Japanese butoh company, marking the first time a participant visited from outside of Europe. The symposium’s third edition laid an even greater emphasis on general audience inclusion, promoting the event as an opportunity to discuss theatre freely, and to reflect on the works and the workshops in, according to the Sunday Tribune, “…an open and stimulating environment”. Both Polish company, Theatre of the Eight Day, and Belgian company, Ultima Vez, who had attended earlier editions, came back for another six days of stimulating theatre talk and practice. 

After a one-year hiatus, Pan Pan came back with the 4th Dublin International Theatre Symposium from January 8th to January 13th, 2001, at the Samuel Beckett Centre. The symposium opened with speech by Síle de Valera, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, who commended Pan Pan for “their willingness to examine the fundamental questions about theatre, and for leading the way in offering practitioners an opportunity to come together and share their knowledge, skills and experiences”.

The fourth edition additionally achieved two noteworthy milestones: the first ever performance which was specifically commissioned for the symposium, Camera Echo by Italian company Il Pudore Bene in Vista and Austrian playwright Andreas Staudinger; and the first time popular British company Forced Entertainment came to Ireland. By now, the Dublin International Theatre Symposium had grown in stature to rival the Dublin Fringe and the Dublin Theatre Festival, while still occupying a wholly unique position in the festival calendar. 

The fifth and final edition of the Dublin International Theatre Symposium took place in 2003, at the Project Arts Centre from January 6th to January 11th. Among the attendees were companies who had visited before, but there were also some new faces in the crowd, including Big Art Group from the United States, La Carnicería Teatro from Spain and Dood Paard from the Netherlands. This edition leaned a bit more on the festival aspect of the event rather than the symposium aspect, laying a notable emphasis on the different performances that would take place over the course of six days, instead of the workshops and panels. In the official event flyers, this event was described as a “six-day festival of theatre”, and “easily the best theatre experience you have ever had in your entire life”.

The organisation of the Dublin International Theatre Symposium underlines Pan Pan’s international interests and ability to bring diverse theatre practitioners from all over the globe together in order to share, observe and learn. Each year, Pan Pan and the attending companies and practitioners displayed their critical, playful and evolving engagement with theatre, showing how the stage is a place for experimentation and multifaceted creative development. Moreover, the workshops, talks, demonstrations and panels helped audiences engage with theatre in an entirely different way. Press coverage at the time rightfully noted how Pan Pan stood at the forefront of the future of Irish theatre.

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